People not only have a responsibility to others in the world, but an obligation to follow through,a s much as is possible, to shape a future world where conditions provide the best opportunities for all people to secure safety and happiness. Such a belief has often been regarded as “utopian” or highly idealistic, but it may be the case that actual conditions on the planet earth will reveal that utopianism is actually a form of pragmatism and that idealism, at least to some degree is a necessary component of social and political thinking.
I regard this belief as a form of social responsibility. Social responsibility can be defined as “”balancing the pursuit of one’s individual goals with the needs of others in establishing a safe and just world and ensuring the continuation of a democratic society. ” (Robinson, and Hayes, 2002, p. 6). The challenges of the twenty-first century, whether economic or environmental, cultural or biological will require new methods of thinking and behaving at both the individual and social levels.
There must be an emphasis on changing the perceptions, particularly in twenty-first century America, which many people have about the nature of personal responsibility and personal empowerment. While it seems obvious enough to say, as President Barack Obama asserted in his book The Audacity of Hope, that new generations of Americans are “waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised” (Obama, 2004. . 42) the ramifications of such a politics of maturity and realism extend to many important areas of American society including economics, technology, and philosophy and religion. What is necessary for America to meet the challenges of the future is a social cultural acceptance of the fact that responsibility, and not merely the pursuit of self-interests, is a path to personal empowerment. This last statement may seem contradictory to many Americans.
A great number of people view themselves in purely materialistic terms and want what they can get out of society without taking any personal responsibility for the consequences. For some people, life holds no meaning outside of its material dimension and this loss of meaning in American culture has consequences beyond the immediately personal: “We have no choice, we are constantly told, because of economic forces, our unconscious, or our genes. Yet, at the same time, we live in a world that presents us with endless choices” (Sardar, 2006, p. ). As strange as it sounds, the only way to break the cycle of endless anxiety over our limitless freedom is by accepting responsibility for the choices we make. This is a kind of paradox in American society, “We want to have it both ways, and so we end up confused and cynical. Our obsession with individuality and self-interest further erodes personal and collective responsibility” (Sardar, 2006, p. 3) which means, the less one begins to value their own existence the less responsibility they will feel for their actions.
To accept responsibility is, in itself, to accept that life is meaningful and to accept that life in meaningful is an act of self-empowerment. we must learn to understand that “Freedom is both a gift and a challenge. It has value only when we respect it and enhance it individually and collectively. And when we exercise it with responsibility. ” (Sardar, 2006, p. 3 ). In this way, a change in the basic philosophical vision present in American culture may help us to begin to make inroads against the challenges which face us in the new world.
Wendell Berry’s persuasive argument that many modern conceptions of progress and happiness are rooted in ignorance and self-deception finds substantial validation in even a cursory glance of modern media and political discourse. Looked at more closely, the misconceptions ably identified by Wendell Berry in the Western (and particularly American) vision of life and life responsibilities, cast an illuminating light on contemporary government, American foreign policy, and many urgent social crises.
Most obvious is the relationship between Berry’s observation that “The higher aims of “technological progress” are money and ease” and the recent almost epidemic instances of corporate corruption (and corruption in government) whereby CEO’s have garnered massive bonuses and pay-increases whilst robbing their shareholders and workers of profits and pensions. The corresponding downfall of powerful political figures in the United States Congress, as well as their lobbyist counterparts for racketeering, bribery, and other financial crimes indicates how widespread is the oligarchical strain of political morals in contemporary society.
Wasteful projects such as the “”Big Dig” in Massachusetts (estimated at $2. 5 billion in 1985, over $14. 6 billion had spent in federal and state tax dollars by 2006), as well as the highly-publicized Tyco and Enron financial scandals affirm Berry’s contention that far from securing a worthy future, the immediate greed and gratification of “big money” has motivated corporate and political leaders to sacrifice the future and well-being of myriad other individuals and the nation as a whole in favor of selfish, personal gain.
This type of greed, based on the fallacious assumption of preserving one’s future extends throughout the social hierarchy of America, with most, if not all industries and pursuits subordinated to it; as Berry remarks “Surely the aim cannot be the integrity or happiness of our families, which we have made subordinate to the education system, the television industry, and the consumer economy” (Berry,1990. p206).
The reality is that most families are useful to the controlling interests of the American economy as charted demographics which allow individual economic resources to be targeted at “tapped” by the said controlling interests. Corporate America, the media, and the governments themselves function as subsidiaries of the overall obsession with wealth and the increase of personal fortunes. The quest for personal enrichment, the acquiescence to greed, predicated on the unknowable future is self-rationalizing behavior.
Ironically, it is also self-destructive behavior and also portends the possible destruction of the global environment. Were humanity truly concerned for the future, Berry argues, we would embrace the good things we know about the present such as water, oxygen, trees, oceans, mountains, and wildlife, and see to it that these good things endure “If we take care of the world of the present, the future will have received full justice from us. A good future is implicit in the soils, forests, grasslands, marshes, deserts, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans that we have now” (Berry,1990. 16) One implied irony in Berry’s observations is that technology, the science which is supposed to bring our society to a great modern crest, has actually pushed us further into primitive superstition and savagery.
Our modern totems are money and power; and we rape the environment rather than protecting it. We use our knowledge to destroy rather than preserve, and, at its pinnacle, technology, so Berry insinuates, has as one of its outcomes, the utter destruction of human thought. If one’ motives are money, ease, and haste to arrive in a technologically determined future, then the answer is foregone, and there is, the fact, no question, and no thought” (Berry,1990. p17). The most philosophically dense and relatively unsupported point which Berry attempts to make is the connection between a rejection of dehumizing technology and religious faith. “If one’s motive is the love of family, community, country, and God, then one will have to think, and one may have to decide that thee proposed innovation is undesirable” (Berry,1990. p17).
With this conclusion, Berry seems to depart from the more linear and persuasive argument he previously offered. After all, if, as he insists, “We cannot think about the future, of course, for the future does no exist: the existence of the future is an article of faith” (Berry,1990. p17) then surely the substantiation of God or any moral or political belief predicated on the existence of God is similarly “an article of faith. ” Taking Berry’s comments another way: that religious “faith” comprises a panacea to an abiding though sorely misplaced faith in technology, the argument seems more tenable if no less anecdotal and emotionally based.
However, it is the emotion of Berry’s remarks which lends them a convincing and urgent air, which is suitable for the topics at hand. Unfortunately, outside of a faith in God, a dedication to one’s family, and a respect and love for the earth and its environment, Berry offers very few insights into how the prevailing destructive beliefs and practices he describes may be combated or changed. His arguments about selfishness and the hollow pursuit of material wealth as opposed to communal or national prosperity seem well reasons and are substantiate by contemporary facts.
His arguments against technology seem a bit less well-reasoned and incomplete, based on emotional rather than evidential criteria. Though Berry’s imploring tone seems to fall short of providing even the slightest recommendation of pragmatic applications to reverse or undo the environmental and cultural damage that has come from America’s mortgaged future, his overall diagnoses of the problems facing our “Plutocracy” are persuasive and articulated with aplomb.
As Barack Obama points out, economics in the twenty-first century no longer function along the same models they had embodied for years. He writes that “In this more competitive global environment, the old corporate formula of steady profits and stodgy management no longer worked” (Obama, 2004, p. 156). What Obama is driving at with this statement can be considered an aspect of “humanizing” economics, a must-needed step for America in the twenty-first century.
By accepting responsibility for our actions we will understand the connections between the injustices and disparities in society and the damages which have been inflicted upon the environment. Though some of our challenges may be economic and some may be based in moral and ethical issues, the unifying factor is always: human responsibility. We begin to understand ourselves much more clearly and understand our challenges more clearly when we admit that we live in a world which “desperately needs fixing and in which denial is seductively easy and cheap, at least for a time.
We must acknowledge and seek to understand the connection between poverty, social injustice, and environmental degradation. ” (Orr, 2002, p. 89) Barack Obama’s insistence that the new economics has paved a way clear of the old economics which stressed only self-interests and profits is a key to understanding the kind of view of business and corporate responsibility which will have to be embraced in American society as we move forward to accept our responsibilities and meet the challenges of the future.
Instead of viewing purely money and material growth as the only forms of “profit” in business, corporations of the future will begin to realize that “business behavior and government policy toward business requires, more than ever, an appreciation of the firm’s human dimensions, the dimensions left out of the neoclassical theory” (Tomer, 1999, p. 1). The future corporation will accept responsibility for its actions and view itself as shaped by not only “market forces but by societal ones” (Tomer, 1999, p. 9) and in so recognizing other forms of “success” and “profit” namely, the maintaining of ethical and environmental standards which contribute to the overall growth and well-being of humanity may over-ride present-day obsession with self-interest and materialistic profit.
If Barack Obama’s writings in “The Audacity of Hope” are any real indication of the politician of the future — or the President of the future — it si clear that America still has the capacity to grown and recognize leaders who can summon a bold-enough vision as well as present workable solutions to meet the challenges we have at least partially created for ourselves.
Obviously, I disagree with the suggestion that all the worlds problems and injustices can be eliminated, but I do believe that positive change can be made and that better conditions can be achieved. Here is why. My generation faces so many different challenges, ranging from war to global poverty, from the impact of technology to the scarcity of natural resources, that it is difficult to assign a single challenge as most crucial or important.
However, because the challenges of the twenty-first century, whether economic or environmental, cultural or biological will require new methods of thinking and behaving at both the individual and social levels, the biggest challenge that faces my generation is one of changing the perceptions which many people have about the nature of personal responsibility and personal empowerment. I see changing this essentially self-perceptive issue as a key for facing the specific, concrete challenges that we will face in the future.
In my opinion, it is not only possible, but morally imperative, that the social inequalities and injustices of the world be addressed with an eye toward influencing productive change in the world. It is, in fact, possible to make the world a better place. The most important factor, in my opinion, regarding the formation of an ideal society, would be the individual liberties of each of the citizens in that society.
To me, a society which contained too may laws or rules, whether intended to ensure liberty or simply to oppress people, would be contrary to a utopia. Any ideal society must ensure the freedom of its citizens while simultaneously preserving their safety and the productivity of the society as a whole. Therefore, although it may sound somewhat far-fetched, the most important reform in my ideal society would be concerned with educational reform.
In my vision of utopia, knowledge would be considered the most important “possession” or accomplishment. Instead of testing people for aptitude in a hierarchical fashion, I belive IQ and other tests should be sued early on in someone’s life to determine where their particular strengths and talents are centered and then that person would be encouraged to pursue these talents and aptitudes without regard of race, sexual orientation, religion, political or cultural biases.
Due to the fact that individual liberty is the keystone of my utopian beliefs, no-one in an idealized society should be forced to pursue any endeavor whether they have aptitude for it or not, but all should be encouraged to find their inner-talent and special interests as the highest achievable goal in life. That and respecting the rights of all others to pursue their individual talent and skills and interests.
Because I realize that the first and foremost plank of my utopian platform necessitates changing deeply rooted racial, gender-based, and cultural prejudices, it is worth pointing out that “utopias” are defined, not in terms of practicality and pragmatism, but on imaginative depth and vision, so that “the influence of utopian writings has generally been inspirational rather than practical. ” (“Utopia, 2004”) This allows for utopian thinkers to “dream away,” as it were, and this liberty allows me to offer my second most critical element in an ideal society.
This second point falls squarely under the category “economic utopia. ” In my vision of an idealized society, money would be completely eliminated. The reason that money would be eliminated is because economic interests traditionally have displaced moral ideals in capitalist societies. Corporation work to obfuscate moral responsibility: “levels of complexity are added by confusion between descriptions and prescriptions of social responsibility, between what is and what ought to be, and between moral obligation and legal obligation” (Besser, 2002, p. 4). In my ideal society, religion would be primarily left to the individual and there would be no government sanctioning or endorsement of any single religion. Again, this is an impossible social requirement, but the vision of utopia I have would not contain the existence of exclusionary religions, religious ideas taught in public schools or religious ideas being used as a basis for common morality. Instead, a civil ethic would replace what has in the past been seen as a religious ethic.
Because my ideal society would contain neither organized religion or money, I believe that the two most important barriers to personal liberty and happiness would be removed from most people’s lives. Because self-determination would be the highest priority in my utopia, family conflicts and other interpersonal relationships would also play a less-permanent role in people’s lives,encouraging them to view all people as equal rather than those of their family or race or region being more “familiar” and subsequently more preferred or sympathized with.
Most of the social changes in my utopia are probably unachievable and yet I believe by making only a few, albeit radical, changes in social vision and structure, a better world could be realized and a wider spread of happiness and contentment might be embraced; it is the idea that these changes could happen, even if they are unlikely, that defines a utopia.
Courtney from Study Moose
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